Catacombs are early
Christian underground burial places...
cemeteries in which the Christians of Rome buried their dead during the first
three centuries. They were designed like the burial-places of the Jews, and at
first in association with the family vaults of patrician converts, so that, as
burial-places, they enjoyed by Roman law immunity from disturbance. The presence
of the bodies of the martyrs as well as their safeness caused them also to be
used for the celebration of the divine mysteries. The bodies of the principal
martyrs were translated to churches in the city during the 8th and 9th
centuries. Over twenty-five of these cemeteries have been rediscovered, of which
the principal are those of St. Callistus and of St. Sebastian, close to the
Appian Way; of St. Agnes on the Via Nomentana; of St. Priscilla on the Salarian
Way; and of SS. Nereus, Achilleus and Domitilla on the Via Ardeatina. The name
is said to be derived from the church built over the cemetery of St. Sebastian,
called ad catacumbas (probably from Gr., at the hollow), which was resorted to
as the second burial-place of St. Peter. By the concordat of 1929 the
disposition and maintenance of the Catacombs was reserved to the Holy See. There
are other catacombs at Syracuse and in Malta." (Catholic Dictionary)
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